Social Media – One size fits all or …

So you have a small business or a hobby website or maybe you just want to showcase your talents on the web. You know everyone has been talking about the importance of Social Media and how it’s regarded as a fun engagement tool. You are wondering, where do I start? Should I get a Facebook page? Should I twitter? Should I try the outdated MySpace profile or do I need to start blogging on regular basis?

In reality, all of those options are valuable yet to an extent, disqualifying. It’s often not a high-priority marketing initiative that gets the budget, attention, or credibility that other areas of marketing enjoy. However, social media marketing can provide an incredible value. In fact, a closer look at the scope and impact of social media marketing will reveal a tactic that can be quite effective at solving short-term brand management obstacles.

Understanding the value

Social media marketing can be leveraged as a public relations tool during a brand crisis—think of it as a damage control device. In short, it can increase positive impressions around your brand and help you manage your online marketing messaging during a difficult time.

At its core, the “conversation” element of social media—supported by the branding aspects of organic or paid search campaigns—can improve brand engagement, and build a community of supporters. Moreover, listening to the concerns and feedback that customers provide in social media can help the brand better articulate its response to the crisis, and craft its most effective message to the public.

Making it work

Below is a 3-step plan to help you capitalize on the power of social media during a brand management crisis. However, before you take action, you must first step back to carefully, calmly, and thoroughly assess the situation at hand.

Step 1: Take inventory

The first step in this process is to assess the current social media initiatives underway at your organization. For example, does your company have a presence in social networking, video sites, or micro-blogging? If so, consider them to be your baseline social media assets for replacing negative press with positive branding. In addition, you will also want to have a good understanding of your other marketing assets, like optimized videos or search leveraged press releases, which can be used within social media. In essence, before you move forward with this plan, you want to find out what you already have to utilize.

Step 2: Hone message; select targets

Time matters in short-term brand management challenges. You can be sure that there will be little or no opportunity for a “do-over.” Given that, you not only need to pick the right sites, but it’s critical that you expose the right message. Granted, that may sound basic, but the efficacy of your social media initiatives will largely depend on whether or not the messaging is appropriately designed to engage the target audience and positively affect them. Below are three examples of large, well-known social media sites, and how you can tap into them for short-term brand management challenges:

Facebook: Functioning as a single point of contact for your customers and end-users alike, your Facebook page could be a crucial meeting center for updated information on the situation. The page can be used to host a new press release, product videos/pictures, an audio message from the CEO, and provide a link to your website. Naturally, all of these assets should be optimized for search. Ninety million Facebook users (comScore) is a large audience, and Facebook pages are crawlable by the search engines.

YouTube: With ownership of over one-third of online videos viewed in the US, YouTube has a massive reach with viral potential. You could use existing video assets, or even produce a short video to post. The optimized videos can be geo-targeted, and a PPC element is now in beta in YouTube that will allow you to bid your videos to the top of the results in a time when high visibility is absolutely crucial. In addition, comments on YouTube are also crawlable and could help produce additional SERP “real estate.”

Twitter: Twitter allows constant communication in real-time. Using your brand logo as an image, you can follow, and participate in, the conversation of your target market. Include links to your website in your “tweets” and try to direct people to your branded Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking sites/pages for further clarification about the situation. You might also want to set-up a “Tweet Beep” to get notification of relevant conversations, so you can immediately enter them and become a valuable resource.

Step 3: Align search

The convergence of search and social media is happening quickly. As the capabilities of these marketing strategies expand and overlap online, it is becoming increasingly necessary to coordinate the two. Given that, below are a few high-level search opportunities to be sure to address in conjunction with social media during a short-term brand management challenge:

* Assets submitted to social media sites should be optimized for search
* Be sure to supply links to your site within your keyword-centric social media contributions
* PPC keywords that are relevant to the situation should be targeted, and should resolve to an appropriate company news landing page

Overall, these three steps should help you capitalize on the power of social media to combat a difficult brand management situation. However, there’s one more: You don’t need to wait for a crisis situation. Start embracing social media today, so if a brand crisis hits, you’ll be best positioned to quickly leverage its power to mitigate the damage.